Rajasthan Ordinance seeks to shield the corrupt, threatens media and whistle blowers. Demand to roll back the Rajasthan Ordinance and its unacceptable gag order.
Instead of enacting laws for the welfare of the people, the Vasundhara Raje government in Rajasthan promulgated an Ordinance seeking to muzzle the media and shield judges and government servants from investigation into any wrong doing.
With the central leadership of the BJP taking exception to it amid intense criticism from various quarters, the bizarre measure has fallen by the wayside. It was in violation of Constitutional provisions upholding press freedom.
The proposed gag legislation — The Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2017 — was tabled in the state assembly last Monday. Under pressure from the Centre, the Raje government had no option but to send it to the Select Committee in a jiffy in a bid to end the controversy.
The immediate repercussions of the measure targeting the Fourth Estate while seeking to protect politicians and civil servants would have had its inevitable repercussions in Himachal Pradesh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat where assembly elections are scheduled for next month.
The Lotus party brass maintained putting curbs on the media is not constitutionally sustainable as the Raje government in Jaipur had far exceeded the reasonable restrictions on the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution. The Ordinance promulgated on the seventh of September sought to impose prior restraint on the investigation of the state’s judicial and government officials along with barring their identification in brazen contravention of the freedom of the press.
The curbs encompass not only corruption charges but the whole gamut of crime. The danger of such a measure providing insulation from law can result in impunity. Expectedly the Ordinance has been challenged in the High Court.
The Rajasthan Government’s attempt at tweaking laws is an unabashed attempt in partially rolling back the hard won fight for the ‘Right to Information’ about public servants. The proposed Bill seeks to amend two sections of the CrPC as it applies to Rajasthan.
The role of a democratic state is not merely limited to sustaining law and order. Without a minimum of social security, citizens will not be able to participate in social and political processes in an independent manner. Having adopted a mix of liberalism and pluralism, it is incumbent on the state to guard the rights of deprived groups.
Under the proposed changes no magistrate can order an investigation nor can it be carried out against any current or former public servant without the sanction of the government. More over anyone who writes about or reveals the identity of a person for whose prosecution permission has been sought will be fined and jailed. Also no magistrate can order an investigation into the misconduct of any kind by a public servant.
It may be recalled that the Supreme Court had twice struck down the blanket requirement of prior approval from the government for moving against officials above the rank of joint secretary. Three years back the Apex court had observed that seniority of rank should not be the reason for differential treatment of civil servants.
The Ordinance violates all norms of democracy and public accountability. That a BJP government should even attempt bringing such a regressive law has dangerous portends leading to a democratic backlash. Political parties, the media, intellectuals and others are categoric that the Rajasthan government’s gag order is unacceptable and must be rolled back.
(T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator. The views are personal.)